First off, for Fancy Widget (FW) fans, the new FW is on track, and you guys won't be disappointed when it comes out, so stay tuned!
However, this post is not mainly about the new FW, but somehow related to the departed one. Clearly after FW was pulled off from the Android Market, it still lives on many of our fans' phones. But as we recently found out, it also "lives" in another rather obscure form in the market. It turns out that some guy apparently took the FW's code base, changed some image resources, tweaked the layout and texts a bit, rebranded and republished it on the market as multiple themed versions (and charging for it in some cases!), without even providing any attribution or giving any credit to FW. So there are still lots of "phantom" FWs floating around in different forms on the official Android Market, and the number is still growing as we write...
How is this possible, you may ask? Well, with easy-to-use tools specifically designed for reengineering Android application packages, it won't be too much of a challenge. With the right tool, one can decode resources to nearly original form and rebuild them after making modifications with just a few clicks or commands. Those tools were initially created with good intentions and purposes, but they can also be abused. For this particular case that we found out, we have hard evidence of what the author did, so it's not just speculation on our part. It is, however, much harder to do something similar on other platforms such as the iOS.
What struck us most is not that Fancy Widget got literally ripped off, but the fact that reengineering almost any Android app and rebranding/repackaging it (for profit!) is just SO EASY (even a caveman can do it), and it could totally go under the radar if more care is taken during the process. This would be a huge bump for us fellow Android developers, and Google's new app licensing schemes won't help in this case either. Without system-level support, we could foresee lots of similar occurrences in the future. If that becomes the reality (if not already), it will be detrimental to the Android ecosystem as a whole, and here's why:
- For users, the user experience for most (if not all) phantom apps would suck since they are more likely to be published by incompetent/lazy devs that either can't or won't bother to implement their own features, let alone improving and actively maintaining the apps.
- For developers, phantom apps will be a problem worse than piracy. Because pirated apps, although prevalent to some extent, can't be distributed through legit channels such as the Android Market, while the phantom apps could be published and thus competing head to head with the original ones in the same arena.
- For the Android platform, the average quality of apps on the market will be dragged down dramatically by the huge influx of phantom apps.
So what's our take on this? Our conclusion is it's pretty hard on our side to prevent this from happening, and we'd rather spend our time on improving FW. We are still going to release Fancy Widget with totally new design and exciting new features. After all, fans loved the original Fancy Widget not only because of the look and feel (salute to HTC's design team!) but also the extra features that we added in. So guys, again, stay tuned, the new Fancy Widget is on the way!
-- Android Does
P.S. For those of you who are interested in the origin of Fancy Widget: the project started simply because one of the developers was switching his phone from an HTC Hero to the original Droid (thanks to Google for giving out free dev phones), and he missed the old Sense flip clock on the Hero. Then it all started from there. We built it because we liked it, and we released it for free (w/o ads!) to everyone that has similar needs. We consider it an organic idea, although someone may not agree on that.
Update: One of the authors of the infringing apps/widgets has responded to us and started taking off those apps. But as some of the commenters pointed out, similar issues could happen again and again, and this is definitely worth some attention for the benefit of the entire Android platform.
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